The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

Can India have it’s own Instagram? A Perspective on the Numbers game..

Like everyone else on social media, I was fascinated and stunned by the story of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. ย The fact that Instagram had recently launched it’s Android app and which was doing well, and that only about a week ago, Instagram had raised a good $50 mn of funding, made this acquisition look very surprising and sudden!

Be that as it may be, it is an amazing story.

One of the side stories that went around last night was whether India can at all have it’s own Instagram. And this post that I read suggested an emphatic “no”.

I also see the challenge of building an Instagram like idea in India. For various reasons. And I will come to those in a bit.

But one of the most important, relevant and significant reasons is the number story. We need a perspective and a strong drive towards numbers.

Let me share with you three very independent stories, all about “numbers in 24 hours”.

1. The Android app of Instagram clocked 1 million downloads in 24 hours of it’s launch.

2. I met this person whose company sets up Internet kiosks in villages of West Bengal, on a franchising model, and hence, has to create income opportunities for the franchisees, on these kiosks. They have put many paid services on offer. He mentioned that he clocks 20 air tickets in a day – yes, 20 air ticket bookings in 24 hours – via those village kiosks!

3. A personal experience. I spoke at the India Social Summit on April 3. I put up my presentation on slideshare on April 4, and put out exactly one tweet and one Facebook update about this, and in a matter of 24 hours, the presentation got close to 450 views.

Yes, three disparate facts. And a matter of numbers!

I was impressed by all three of these. What it showed me clearly was that:

– we live in a small and connected world

– and hence, we can reach a large, far flung consumer base, for products and services that we can offer

You’d say that these facts are true from the time that the Internet came into being.

True. And I should know. Having been in the space since the time Internet came into India! Since 1997-98.

What impresses me today is the natural, organic viral growth opportunity. And the possibility then, of clocking significant numbers rapidly!

What made the three cases mentioned above, to happen?

1. Instagram was already a hugely popular app, on the iPhone platform. Widely talked about. The Android app was way overdue. It was announced and people had to sign up in advance. With all that pre-release build up, it was not surprising that when they actually released it, Android users were rushing to go and grab it. Quite like the queue you see at an Apple store when they release a new iPhone or an iPad. Yes, it is going to be available the next day too, but one wants to be amongst the earliest ones to get it!

2. The case of the air ticket bookings in the village kiosks is akin to the success of IRCTC for rail bookings. Irrespective of the quality of the website, since it met a dire need, and the alternate way to get that service had a lot more pain, this one was lapped up. What was true of IRCTC for many years was now true for the air ticket purchases in villages!

3. As for my deck on slideshare, I guess it was a series of factors. On April 4 when I uploaded the deck, the event was still on, and many were following it on Twitter. The hashtag #IndiaSocial12 was popular that day. And I tagged my post with the same hashtag. Where other speaker presentations of the event would go up later, post-event, mine was up that day, even as people were following the live proceedings. And it generated interest for people to click and view. And hopefully the content gave it a little organic push, and it hit those 400-odd views that it did.

So in all three cases, there was a reason – be it content or a needed service – which got across to the target audience, and a viral push happened. And numbers followed.

That is the beauty of our times! You could be sitting in any corner of the country, but if you can get this content or service mix right, hit the specific target audience pockets, it CAN fly!

So with that scenario, can India have it’s own Instagram? And if not, what are the challenges?

Note the facts first:

Instagram has run for about two years now. Has almost no serious revenues. Has had a small team of a dozen or so now (for a long time they were even smaller), but they probably work with some outsourced partners too, I reckon. That said, the costs to support are the small team and large servers and bandwidth capacities, mainly.

So first of all, if you have a product of this kind, with a potential upside of this nature, will an Indian VC buy?

I don’t think so. The Indian VC will put his money on the 27th daily deal site and the 45th e-commerce site, because it is the flavor of the day, but rarely if at all, will he bet on a new concept, unproven, something that could potentially be a global winner. So you are stuck if you are dependent on VC financing.

But say, you had inherited wealth or you begged, borrowed or even stole money to support your venture. Where is the next pitfall?

From my experience with startups in India – and I have met several over various interactions at various fora – the one trait that I often see, is that they get excited about the initial numbers and get somewhat complacent.

How often have I heard stories like “we just started few months back, and I have already got 40 orders” or “we get 3-4 email enquiries daily” or things like that. There are ventures that clock up a few thousand subscribers / users and get pumped up. Most of the time, these are free registrations, and so people have not really spent money on the platform. But there is excitement and a feeling of achievement.

While I have nothing against this excitement, the reality is that a few hundred or a few thousands are NOT GETTING YOU ANYWHERE. If you are looking to do a big one, the world is your market potentially, and you need to think in millions of users.

So the two biggest reasons holding us back, from creating our own Instagrams or what have you, are potentially a lack of funding for such business models, and secondly, a tendency to not see the very large picture. For the latter part, obviously there have been the exceptions and which have succeeded big time, like Naukri, Shaadi, BharatMatrimony, Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, Carwale, Games2Win, IndiaGames and a handful others.

But the typical startup that I encounter at TiE or at some Startup event, is somehow not seeing the big, big picture. And which is where we don’t have our potential Instagrams!

But I hope to see change. As I am the eternal optimist.. next one, hopefully from India. Happening in some lab somewhere in Mumbai or Gurgaon or Bangalore, even as I am posting this.. ๐Ÿ™‚

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April 10, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Amazing Breed of Young Indian Entrepreneurs

Recently I attended StartUp Garage, just for a few hours, but I managed to interact with several young entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs.

This was not the first experience for me. I make it a point to connect with this breed, at various other startup events and mentoring opportunities, including Headstart’s StartUp Saturday, at the MentorEdge Rendezvous sessions, and TiE’s mentoring events, amongst others.

And almost always, I come back feeling very impressed. By the entrepreneurial energy in the first place. And sometimes, by the quality of business ventures that some of them are working on.

I think back to the many years back, when we graduated from engineering school. I do not remember a single classmate of mine, who went out, straight from college, to start a venture of his own. There were few who went and joined their family businesses. Which is an entirely different thing. But none that I remember, who started new ventures of their own, straight out of college.

Years later, many of my batchmates are today, running successful entrepreneurial ventures. But they all started after taking a few years experience, working in industry. Typically.

As against that, I am seeing just so many keen final year students (of engineering or management schools, typically) and students who have just passed out of college, who are all set to get into a business venture of theirs, I am amazed by it all!

That one has the dare at the early age, to chuck job offers, and venture out on one’s own.

To take on the challenges, not just of giving life to your idea, but also to take on other accompanying challenges of finance, team building, marketing, etc.

So irrespective of how good or viable these ideas are, that we have so many attempting to create their own businesses, it is truly impressive.

Coming the actual quality of the plans though, perhaps 1 out of 20, are good enough (by my assessment – and I could be wrong, of course!) to potentially become decent successes.

But that is not a bad ratio.

I was completely impressed for example, by this one entrepreneur, who had finished college few weeks back, and who demo-ed to me, a completely working and commercially viable, SaaS based video conferencing tool, with some excellent features. He may still have some challenges to get the UI improved, and of course, to figure out the pricing model and the marketing, but he has a full-fledged working prototype out there. Obviously made, even as he was a student in college.

Now that takes some doing.

And there are more like that.

I have this one other group of students, from another engineering college, who have set up an e-commerce venture, for selling text books. Again straight out of college. And a business model that I think, is extremely attractive, and can become very successful, if they can execute it right. They interact with me once in a while, and I am very bullish about this venture.

Indeed, these are excellent times, for India’s economy, and this level of confidence and dare, amongst the youth, can only help propel the growth rates. I am very happy about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country now. And I am happy to have occasional run-ins with these smart youngsters, and also happy to share the occasional gray hair wisdom with them ๐Ÿ™‚

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup, Technology | , , , , | 5 Comments

What does it take to run a successful digital business in India?

This was the topic given to me, by the organizers at the Shailesh J Mehta School of Management, I I T Mumbai. Originally meant to be a panel discussion (would have been a very interesting one, I bet), it was later converted to a talk by me.

Even as I was preparing my thoughts for this subject, I posted the question on my Facebook page to ask my friends, what they reckoned, does it take to succeed in a digital business in India. And I got responses that included the need for velocity, passion, doggedness, understanding local nuances and culture, etc.

Which were all right, in their own way.

But I guess all of those factors, and many more, are relevant for just about any business, and not particularly digital businesses. So focusing specifically on digital businesses, and for India in particular, I put some thoughts together.

It was important to appreciate key words here, viz.

Success – not about winning a business plan competition or getting angel funds or even VC funds. Success, for this context, was about generating a sizeable business, making money (as against burning money), creating a brand, perhaps an IPO, etc.

Digital – every business nowadays has some digital component. So we are not referring to those. We are also not referring to creating applications for deployment on the digital space. Since creating applications is a software business, whether for online space or otherwise. So digital in this context, was about close to pure-play digital businesses, typically online types like e-commerce, services on a digital platform, portals, and the like.

India – for me, meant that the operations are based here. But that is not to stop serving a global market.

With that context, and focusing more on the business side and less on the technology side, this is what I put together (note that bullets are cryptic, as there was talk that supported these; so, not sure if all of the points get across – no, don’t have the time right now, to elaborate the points!):


Would love to have your views on the subject. Please share in the comments below.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup, Technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment